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First Brands Corp. creates new network using fiber optics.

Once its connection to Union Carbide's mainframe was severed as a result of a leveraged buyout, First Brands Corp. had to adopt a computer system of its own. Instead of a companywide mainframe system like its former parent, First Brands implemented PC technology.

"It has proven less expensive for our company, and the production plants receive better information more quickly this way," explains Ernie Lazor, manager of fixed assets and special projects at First Brands.

Comprised of Compaq System Pros and 386 Deskpros, running at 33 MHz, these PCs operate as fileservers to provide a central shared database. This network serves the 15 LANs throughout North America, including five LANs at company headquarters in East Hartford, Conn.

To ensure optimum performance from its PC network, the company rejected traditional coaxial cabling in favor of a state-of-the-art fiber-optic system. The reasons: dramatic increases in speed, room for future growth and less signal interference in manufacturing settings.

The fiber-optic backbone connects major departments and production areas throughout the headquarters complex. Within departments, fibers are transitioned via electronic equipment to a twisted pair wiring system for connection to PCs, telephones, and almost anywhere necessary.

"That's one of the beauties of fiber," explains Allen Kasiewicz, president of Trellis Communication of Manchester, N.H., which designed and installed the network. "The fiber is 'transparent' to the various kinds of signals. It can handle anything from data to video to building control systems.

The payoff has been improved data communications in a cabling system that Lazor says will serve First Brands for up to 20 years. Such longevity has been unheard of until recently, for two major reasons. First, copper wiring could never provide the capacity needed for continuing growth. And second, when a new communications technology arose, old cabling was simply cut and abandoned.

Each fiber is equal to a conduit full of traditional copper wiring. A 12-fiber cable such as the one used at First Brands provides several times the capacity of existing coaxial cabling in a fraction of the space and for a lower cost.

"The amount of coaxial cable you would have to run to get the same capacity would be enormous," Lazor says. "Fiber gives you a great deal of attainable throughout."

Before fiber-optics, Frist Brands was operating an ArcNet network--rated at 4 Mb/s, but operating at roughly 2, according to Lazor. With the fiber installation, the company is preparing to move to a Proteon token ring network, rated at 16 Mb/s, which Lazor expects will operate at 12.

"PCs on our network that run at 33 MHz probably transmit at 5 to 8 Mb," he says. "If you're restricted to something slower like ArcNet or Ethernet, you're holding yourself back. That will become even more important when we put CAD/CAM on the network, since it generates such large data files."

That's just the beginning. The First Brands network will be readily adaptable--using the same fiber-optics in place today--to run the emerging FDDI (Fiber Distributed Data Interface) protocol, rated at 100 MB/s. Fiber is the only medium that can handle it.

A fiber-optic network isn't inexpensive, Kasiewicz admits. But given its capacity for growth, which means companies can continue to use it for years and years without recabling, fiber will more than pay for itself. The keys, he says, are ensuring it is well managed and implemented with high quality products.

He cites connectors as an example where product quality is important. Though there are numerous connector manufacturers competing for his business, Kasiewicz chooses 3M cross-connect hardware and fiber-optic connectors because of their superior design and materials.

"On a 10 Mb/s Ethernet network, jitter is not a factor. But when we move to FDDI at 100 Mb/s, it will be. We tell clients they can't afford to worry about saving $2 or $3 today by buying cheaper connectors. Two years from now, they'll have to replace those cheaper connectors and reterminate all their fibers with better products."

While other types of cable are routinely abandoned when a department moves, fiber can be reused. As a result, First Brands can better plan departmental expansion. Existing fiber cable can be interconnected and maintained, and new cable can be added to the network.

The result, Lazor says, will be a consistent cabling infrastructure throughout the company, one which boosts productivity today and allows for growth tomorrow.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Local Area Networks
Publication:Communications News
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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